On December 10, the world celebrated Human Rights Day which marks the anniversary of the United Nations’ adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. This important document puts forth a detailed list of the rights that all humans are entitled. Among these rights is an important decree about worker justice. Article 23 of the Declaration reads “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work. Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”
What is important about this statement is that it lifts up workers rights – the right to work in a safe environment, to receive fair pay, and to unionize – to be a basic human right. ICWJ similarly expresses workers rights in a context of morality rather than just political or economic reality. ICWJ’s mission is to bring the vision of worker justice presented in the declaration into reality.
Recently we have been doing so by pursuing a local campaign to increase the prosecution of wage theft in Dane County. ICWJ organized a delegation to meet with the new Dane County DA, Ismael Ozanne, to urge him to attend to this growing crisis in our community. On November 16 a group of 14 activists from ICWJ and a variety of other organizations met with the DA. We had a heated meeting that resulted in an agreement between the DA and the Department of Workforce Development to work together to pursue convictions of wage theft.
Two days later ICWJ, as part of the second annual National Wage Theft Day of Action, organized a rally with the Workers’ Rights Center that took place outside the Dane County Courthouse (Click here for media coverage on Channel 3000, and here for some coverage in the Huffington Post). A group of 25-30 faith leaders, community activists and workers gathered outside the Dane County Courthouse to expose the crime of wage theft and call for further prosecution of employers who steal wages from their workers. The rally began with words from the new District Attorney, Ismael Ozanne. He told the crowd that he was committed to work with the Department of Workforce Development and community agencies to increase prosecution of wage theft and seek to pursue these cases criminally.
Following DA Ozanne, the crowd heard from workers who have experienced wage theft and were inspired by prayers by local faith leaders. The group remained outside the courthouse for another half an hour passing out information and talking to people passing by on their lunch hours. DA Ozanne has since contacted us about meeting with him to discuss further steps toward increasing prosecution of Wage Theft in Dane County.
The ICWJ is grateful for the DA’s actions and attention to the injustice of wage theft that plagues so many people in south central Wisconsin. As the year comes to an end we celebrate our ability to make a small difference in assuring that the human rights and dignity of all workers are upheld in our community.
Happy New Year,